The real story behind the third O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race pre-dates Kansas Speedway, and the truck series for that matter. In 1988, a former Ford engineer and college physics instructor, Jack Roush decided he was ready for something new. Already familiar with road and drag racing, the world of stockcars was a veritable unknown for the Kentucky native.
Naturally bonded by the blue-oval, Ford loyalists and 38-year-veteran NASCAR team owners, Glen and Leonard Wood were quick to offer assistance to Roush and his fledgling NASCAR effort. As Roush’s operation grew from a one car team into a NASCAR powerhouse, he decided it was time return the favor to the now much smaller, by comparison, Wood Brothers’ organization.
Roush supplied engines and some technological support to NASCAR’s oldest, continuously running team beginning in the mid ‘90s but perhaps one of the biggest favors came in 2001 when Roush signed Glen Wood’s grandson, Jon Wood, to a part-time ride in the truck series. Impressed by the youngest Wood’s third place performance at the season finale in California, Roush signed Jon to a full-time ride in 2002.
Oddly, at age 21, Jon Wood was no stranger to Kansas Speedway. In 2001, the Stuart, Va. native placed fourth in the inaugural O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 and collected a pole in NASCAR Winston West competition, finishing the race in the runner-up spot. In 2002, Jon Wood claimed a ninth-place finish, driving for Roush, in the second running of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas Speedway.
Perhaps Jon Wood knew something as he entered the 2003 event. Just days before the team arrived at Kansas Speedway, he issued a statement as part of his weekly team press release stating, “Its only a matter of time before we get our first win. With all of the seat time I have accumulated at Kansas, along with the great equipment I’ve got this year, we should have a really good run.”
As it turned out, Jon Wood had good reason to feel the way he did. Turning an average qualifying lap of 163.999 mph was good enough to set his No. 50 truck inside the second row, but due to a post-qualifying engine change, Jon Wood was shuffled to the back of the field on race day. Jon Wood’s Roush Racing cohort and rookie-of-the-year candidate, Carl Edwards, had a tougher go in time trials but made the race starting in the 16th spot.
When the green flag waived, Jon Wood was on a mission, claiming the lead by lap 80. According to a Sporting News interview, Wood’s truck was so stellar, his grandmother, Bernece Wood, watching the race at home turned to her husband Glen and asked, “Do you think his truck is legal?”
Though his truck was legal and very good, Jon Wood suffered a setback missing the pit-open flag during a caution period, again sending the driver to the tail of the field. Never wavering, the young wheelman worked back to the front of the field and passed leader Brendan Gaughan when he was forced to stop for fuel at lap 140.
Teammates Jon Wood and Edwards would battle for the top spot, but it was Jon Wood that led the final 28 laps, claiming his first NASCAR national series victory and securing the Roush Racing one-two sweep. The triumph also marked the first time a member of the storied Wood family drove a race vehicle into victory lane in 50 years.
Watching the race from the Wood Brothers’ transporter in Daytona awaiting the start of that day’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Wood’s father, Eddie, spoke with reporters about his son’s accomplishment. “It’s been over 10 minutes and I still can’t talk. He’s come so close and for it to finally happen is just so good. It’s good for the family. We’re the Wood’s. They’re the Roush’s, Ford Motor Company.”
Jon Wood’s 2003 season was arguably one of his best. Three months after collecting his first win, he would show off his short track prowess at Martinsville Speedway, garnering his second and last win-to-date in a NASCAR national series. Coupled with his two wins and a string of top tens, Jon Wood finished fifth in points in 2003.
Teammate Carl Edwards received rookie-of-the year honors in the truck series and the rest, as they say, is history.